For Only The Third Time In History, A Woman Has Won The Nobel Prize In Physics

Canadian physicist Donna Strickland became the first in 55 years.

A woman has won the Nobel Prize in Physics for only the third time in history. Donna Strickland, a physicist from the University of Waterloo in Canada, was jointly awarded the elite prize along with American scientist Arthur Ashkin and French scientist Gérard Mourou for their revolutionary work in laser physics.

According to CNN, Strickland and Mourou helped develop short, high-intensity laser pulses that are expected to have broad applications in both the industrial and medical fields. Their win makes Strickland the first woman in 55 years to take home the award in physics and only the third female physics laureate ever, following Maria Goeppert Mayer in 1963 and Marie Curie in 1903.

"I'm honored to be one of those women," Strickland told the academy following the announcement of her history-making win, per Metro UK.

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She and Mourou will split the prize with Ashkin, who, at 96 years old, is the oldest person to be named a laureate for the international award. He's being awarded for his development of "optical tweezers," which can pick up tiny particles without damaging them.  

Strickland's joint win is especially poignant, given it comes only a day after a senior scientist at CERN — the European Organization for Nuclear Research — faced widespread backlash for his remarks disparaging women's place in science. After claiming "physics was invented and built by men" in a presentation, among other sexist comments, Professor Alessandro Strumbia of Pisa University drew adverse reactions from both men and women in the scientific community, and was eventually suspended by CERN pending further investigation.

Women in science have historically faced a myriad of challenges when it comes to advancing in their fields. Research by the University of Missouri found that 74 percent of STEM — science, technology, engineering, and math — employees are male worldwide, with the biggest imbalance in areas such as computer science and physics. With fewer women in science and even fewer who are publicly lauded for their work, young girls often have a hard time envisioning themselves entering the field. And the women who do enter the field often face harassment, bullying, or inappropriate behavior in the lab.

Strickland's victory serves as an important reminder of the pioneering work that many women are doing in labs around the world. "Obviously we need to celebrate women physicists, because we're out there," she said, following her win. "And hopefully in time, it'll start to move forward at a faster rate, maybe."

Cover image: HQuality / Shutterstock.com

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